You don't need to be in a classroom to learn. Enter the Forest School.

The Forest School at Fort Whyte Alive is featured in a CBC Gem doc about learning in the outdoors.

CBC doc explores learning amid nature with the forest schools.

kids at forest school
Students at FortWhyte Alive's forest school ditch the classroom for the woods and swap desks for stumps. (FortWhyte Alive)

This article was originally published Sept. 10, 2021 and updated July 27, 2023.

Forest School

Airs Saturday July 29, 2023
8 p.m. on CBC Manitoba

Stream free on CBC Gem

Parents Dr. Melanie Morris and Dr. Jon McGavock say they were nervous right along with their son, Vin, on his first day at forest school.

Morris explains they didn't know what to expect, but as soon as they received a warm welcome by Forest School staff, they were put at ease. 

"He went to go hang up his jacket, or, his backpack, and it was on a hook on a tree," she says. "And I was like, oh, my gosh, this is awesome."

A CBC documentary created by Winnipeg's Black Watch Entertainment explores the Forest Schools at FortWhyte Alive in Winnipeg, among other locations in the province where kids discover the joy of learning outdoors. 

Yes, from September to June, students and teachers are outdoors during Winnipeg's famously colder than cold winters. 

The philosophy is simple: child-led, child-initiated. Grown-ups are facilitators, while nature provides the setting and inspiration for learning. That's according to Kim Crockett, the Lead Forest School Facilitator.

The kids remain outdoors for the duration of the day, unless the winter temperatures dip too low. Crockett says if that happens, they head inside to warm up. 

kids climbing trees
FortWhyte Alive launched Manitoba's first forest-school pilot program in September 2016. (FortWhyte Alive)

The school is a European-inspired educational approach that has been around for 50 years.

Forest Schools, the film, will explore all aspects of this concept, following teachers, children, and parents.

Traditional and forest school hybrid

Beaver Creek Academy in Winnipeg is also featured in the doc. They are a K-6 private school. 

The principal at Beaver Creek, Bethany Beaudry, has taken the Forest and Nature School Practitioners Course. She combines the regular curriculum with outdoor learning. 

"We do follow the curriculum," Beaudry says. "But we can also introduce them to this whole new way about thinking about learning, and expanding that learning, and show them that your child is still going to learn how to read. They're going to learn how to write. They're going to learn how to do all the math. They're going to learn all these things, and it's not a separateness."

Learning a new concept

Joanna Braun is a homeschooling mom of three. She had concerns about being able to juggle her children's different curriculums and age ranges while teaching at home. 

She says her two year old wanted to play outside one day, and she thought that was a great idea as an approach to learning.

Enter the forest school. The documentary follows Braun as she gets a tour of the outdoor learning space at FortWhyte, meeting the instructors and getting a sense of what to expect as a forest school parent. 

Also in the doc is Pinawa's F.W. Gilbert Elementary school. The K-6 public school adopted an outdoor learning program, brought to them by their junior kindergarten teacher. Michelle Long says she was intrigued by the idea of forest schools, because it connects kids to the real world.

The concept has become more popular over the years; the FortWhyte Forest School opened in 2016. 

Since then, other Manitoba communities have embraced the idea.

Airs Saturday July 29, 2023
8 p.m. on CBC Manitoba

>> Stream free on Gem




Renée Lilley

Reporter, CBC Indigenous

Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Winnipeg. She is a recipient of the CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship for 2022 and is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported for radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie, Man. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.